About 40 creative writing and English enthusiasts gathered Tuesday evening for a reading in Linsly-Chittenden Hall with poet, novelist and playwright Fred D’Aguiar.
Jovially throwing his book on the table, D’Aguiar opened his talk by reminiscing on his childhood in Guyana, when he and his cousins would throw dominos. The writer, whose works of poetry and fiction have been translated into a dozen languages, came to Yale to read from and discuss his latest collection of poems, “The Rose of Toulouse.” D’Aguiar’s works have garnered literary awards including the Guyana Poetry Prize, the David Higham Prize for Fiction and the Whitbread First Novel Award. In between readings, D’Aguiar discussed his writing process.
“I write poems that are not so much remembered but imagined,” D’Aguiar explained. “Memory supplies you … you take it like a gene and splice it.”
The writer — who was born in London but moved soon after to Guyana, where he lived 12 years — crafts poems that touch on a wide variety of themes, with particular emphasis on his childhood and historical events in Guyana. During the event, D’Aguiar read poems that reflected on his experiences as a young boy growing up in Guyana, which included memories of his cousin flying a kite on Good Friday, coming home by bus to see his grandfather in Georgetown, playing games around the train tracks and conversations in the “coconut tent.” In addition to more personal subjects, several of the works D’Aguiar read highlighted specific historical events. One example is the 1978 poisonings in Jonestown, a remote commune founded in northwestern Guyana by American cult leader Jim Jones, and broader themes such as the transatlantic slave trade and child soldiers being drafted into guerilla armies.
In an interview with the News, the author discussed writing historically based works of fiction as a process of putting himself in the shoes of an individual whose experience differs greatly from his own. D’Aguiar added that he hopes to use language to engage audiences, harnessing poetry’s ability to garner an emotional response to make his work memorable.
“I want something to happen with the work so that you remember it somehow,” D’Aguiar said.
Cecilia Crews ’19, who attended the event, said that listening to D’Aguiar read his poems allowed her to find “deeper meaning” in his work.
“Listening to him read his own work made his poetry come alive,” Crews said. “It helps me, and I think everyone here, appreciate his work more.”
The event was sponsored by the English Department and the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library’s Collection of American Literature.